As D.C. United and other MLS teams seek public money to help finance new stadium ventures, Mark Yost looks at the real figures behind a sports venue financed largely by the taxpayer's cash. While there's no denying that the neighborhood around the Washington Nationals' new baseball stadium in southeast D.C. has undergone a renaissance in recent years, he asks, "How much credit should go to the ballpark?"
"It's a question that has been debated countless times before, over other stadiums, but the historical evidence is pretty clear," Rost writes. "Sports economists have long argued that publicly financed stadiums are a waste of taxpayer money. And they have the data to prove it." While stadium construction creates high-paying jobs for a year or two, "the vast majority of long-term employment is low-wage concession jobs." The Nationals' website currently advertises jobs for elevator operators, fan ambassadors and security guards, with pay at $7.50-$8.50 an hour.
District Councilman Kwame Brown once called the stadium "the most controversial project in the history of the city" because D.C. had more pressing needs with its schools a mess, crime out of control, and unemployment in distressed neighborhoods double the national average. Nowadays, Brown shows off the neighborhood and its $600,000 condos, giving some of the credit to the new stadium. But with the city's income from the stadium coming from the same people who financed it in the first place -- the taxpayers, who pay $14 million a year from taxes on tickets, concessions and merchandise, with another $24 million coming from a new stadium tax on D.C. businesses -- "the vast majority of the 'development' in Southeast," Rost concludes, "is nothing more than taxpayer-funded public works projects."